Few words inspire quite as much fear in the hearts of parents as “the birds and the bees.” In honor of all those who’ve either had to give or sit through “the talk,” I vowed to figure out how the expression got started.
I made my first stop at Phrases.org, a great site that specializes in nailing down the origin of words and expressions. ‘Phrases’ cites several possible explanations. One possibility–Cole Porter. The legendary songwriter’s lyrics to “Let’s Do It” contains the following line: “And that’s why birds do it, bees do it, Even educated fleas do it, Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”
Interesting, but Phrases wasn’t convinced that Mr. Porter is responsible for “birds and the bees” becoming synonymous with sex education. I went to another great source, World Wide Words to see what they had to say. They also mention Cole Porter, but note that the first “explicit use of the phrase” came in a 1939 issue of the Freeport Journal Standard. The paper wrote: “A Frenchman was born sophisticated: he knows about the birds and the bees. In consequence, French films are made on a basis of artistic understanding that does not hamper the story.”
I decided to check one more source–the always reliable Straight Dope. Straight Dope cites the poet Samuel Coleridge. Quoteth Mr. Coleridge in 1825: “All nature seems at work … The bees are stirring–birds are on the wing … and I the while, the sole unbusy thing, not honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.”
So, opinions seem split. Some folks credit a poet, others a songwriter, and still others a random quote in a newspaper. That’s often the case with cliches–we all say ‘em, but nobody knows who’s responsible.
Wondering how other words or phrases were coined? Leave a comment below and let’s help each other out.
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